Monthly Archives: December 2014

Reflections on Retirement, Six Months In

And now we have arrived at what Germans call  die Zeit zwischen den Jahren, or “the time between the years,” that quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s when we sit back, munch cookies, burp, and reflect on the glories and challenges of the past year, while planning our goals for the next.

2014 was a truly momentous year for me: I retired after a 27-year teaching career; I came back to the U.S. after living in Germany for nearly 30 years; I married a very good man and acquired a most excellent extended family; I made some real progress toward my long-frustrated goals and desires. Holy cow!

Duncan & Rhonda get married

2015 will be the first calendar year in which I’m fully retired – well, from teaching – well, for money. I’ll soon begin volunteering at a family literacy program that helps adults – in this case, mothers – reach their goal of a high school diploma and, for some, preparation for college. There are so many good causes here that need volunteers; a retired person could easily fill her days with satisfying work outside the home if she so desired. I don’t. Part of my transition into retirement has been lolling about in my jammies, enjoying my newfound freedom like a pig rolling in luscious mud. After so many years of doing for others, I’ve been enjoying this unrepentant selfishness. I still wake up most mornings, realize that I don’t have to get out of bed until I’m good and ready, and grin in amazement and delight.

Time is really what we sell when we work, and what we long for during those working years – time in abundance, time to fulfill our plans, write our novels, paint our tableaux, build our homes, explore the world, take care of ourselves the way we’ve taken care of children and clients and students and pets and… And the dominant note of this phase of life – sweet, blessed retirement from daily paid work – is the keen awareness that time is limited. I’ll be active and healthy for – what? – maybe twenty more years? A bit more if I’m lucky, but I’ve also entered the phase of life in which friends my age begin to die of cancer, heart disease, the various ailments that take us away too soon. So I try not to waste this precious, vital time on mindless time-sucks like TV marathons, errands, or too much social media. Wow – what could I have accomplished if I’d take this attitude twenty years earlier?

Recently I spent some time with some people in their 30s and early 40s, and what I took away from that exchange is that they’re terrified – of growing older, of no longer being the cool kids, of losing their youthful invincibility, of entering that slide into – what? What are you so afraid of, kiddos? Clearly, these bright, lovely young people fear some terrible fate that awaits when they are no longer wired in to the latest electronic gadgets, when they no longer dance ‘til dawn, when their knees and backs complain after athletic feats of derring-do. I want to take them in my arms and reassure them that life is indeed worth living past youth – that their older years will most likely be a blast! But they wouldn’t believe me, so indoctrinated are they by the Cool Kids’ Creed. (It must be posted somewhere on some social media site I’m too old and uncool to access.)

So the best I can do for these frightened young people is to give them a good example of an older woman having fun in retirement. I’ve no intention of trying to crack the Cool Kids’ Code – after all, it’s intended to keep my ilk out of the clubhouse, and I would look mighty silly in one of those floppy hipster beanies. But soon these youngsters will venture a look out of the clubhouse and notice that – can it be? – there are older people out there having fun! That’s a good goal for 2015, I think: I shall set a good example of a retired person enjoying her life. Happy New Year, everyone!

 

 

Winter Solstice – Time for Reflection and Homesickness

Trier Christmas Market

The Christmas Market in Trier, my former home.

It’s eight-thirty, and the morning light is feeble and steely gray. The trees outside my kitchen window are dancing in the wind off the Puget Sound. Today is the shortest day of the year, mild and blustery. It’s also been about six months since I started this new life: retired after twenty-six years of teaching in Germany, back in the U.S. in a new town, new friends – just a few, but meeting more and more interesting people – and a completely new lifestyle: nearly every day is a Sunday! What I mean by that is that I have the gift of time, and no more excuses for not going after my goals and dreams that I’ve nattered on about throughout my working years.

I recall that after my last big shake-up, moving away from my longtime home to start over in a new community, the shock and homesickness and regret hit me hard right at the six-month mark. And it’s happening again – how I miss my old life in Germany, my old friends, and especially the German way of celebrating Christmas! Yesterday at Doug’s lovely Christmas party, we all sang Christmas carols to the accompaniment of some very talented musicians. When the piano player led us in a chorus of Stille Nacht in German, I launched in enthusiastically, but couldn’t finish – my voice choked by tears. My homesickness is still too raw for me to sing German Christmas songs. The mourning for my life in Europe comes in waves, as was predicted by other returning ex-pats, and Christmastime is a big wave indeed.

Trierer Weihnachtsmarkt

Christmas market in front of the Trierer Dom (cathedral).

There are no Weihnachtsmärkte in Tacoma – those wonderful German Christmas markets in the historical city/town center, with booths that look like little alpine cabins. I’d visit as many of those as possible each year, soaking up the atmosphere, and the Glühwein, steaming mugs of sweet red wine spiced with cinnamon, anise, nutmeg and orange rind. Nothing drove away the bite of the winter cold like Glühwein, and nothing made me feel instantly Christmassy like a stroll through the booths where artisans sold all manner of hand-crafted gifts and decorations: carved wooden tree ornaments and nativity scenes, hand-made soap and candles, gingerbread and fruit cake (The German version is really delicious!), knit hats, scarves and gloves, jewelry made of semi-precious stones and silver, or sparkling glass beads, fluffy slippers made of sheepskin and fleece – I could do all my Christmas shopping right there, outdoors, and then fortify myself against the cold with a sizzling Bratwurst, a paper boat of mushrooms swimming in creamy garlic sauce, a flatbread hot from the wood-fired oven and topped with goat cheese, bacon and walnuts, or perhaps a Dampfnudel, a steaming, fluffy wheat bun filled with sweet cherry goo and topped with hot vanilla custard sauce. And don’t forget the candied almonds! All the delicious smells are drifting back to me on the winds of memory.

Sure, there were stores in Germany, big and small, over-decorated for the holidays and offering the usual gift items, both useful and useless, but to get to these stores we strolled down the streets of the pedestrian zone at the city center, past beautiful historical buildings, past buskers of all sorts, past tents and booths where this church group or that civic club was selling hot chocolate, more Glühwein, and homemade German Christmas cookies – the kind made with ground hazelnuts and dipped in dark chocolate or kissed with jam and powdered sugar. Here in Tacoma we have some pleasant shopping streets, but they’re plagued by traffic, and no one has set up booths outdoors so that we can enjoy the winter weather – which is mostly rainy, so what would be the point of an outdoor market? And we have the mall, which I avoid at all costs. Nothing cheapens the holiday mood like a mall, with its too-loud Muzak and its too-tacky decorations and its schlocky merchandise. Ugh!

And so, for me, this Christmas is a time for regret and longing for Christmas past. You can’t live in another culture that long and not have its ways seep into your soul. But it’s not a bleak Christmas for us – far from it! The invitations and holiday concerts have been coming thick and fast. Tacoma has a lively theater and music scene, and we’ve enjoyed two lavish Christmas shows: the Seattle Men’s Chorus presented Our Gay Apparel, and the Tacoma Christmas Revels took us back to the Italian Renaissance. The former was just as fabulous as you’d expect, and more. My favorite number was “Marvelous Holiday Sweater,” in which dancers paraded across the stage in the most outrageous Christmas outfits you can imagine while the chorus (very large and very talented) sang the glories of dressing up for the holidays. The latter show – well, when I saw the program, I braced myself for a long afternoon of dreary madrigals, but I could not have been more wrong! The large, gorgeously costumed cast presented a lively progression of Renaissance music and funny skits that had us singing along and dancing in the aisles. It was great fun! And generous friends, old and new, have been including us in their celebrations. There’s lots to do here, and lots of holiday spirit – as long as I stay away from the mall. And we’re nearer to family now. I was able to spend Thanksgiving with my mom and daughter, and we’ll spend Christmas with D’s brothers and their extended families here, which means I’m able to borrow some grandchildren for the holidays. (Take your time, dear daughter. I’m content to borrow grandchildren until you’re ready to produce some.)

And so, dear friends and family, I wish you a Christmas steeped in whichever traditions are dear to you. May you enjoy a blessed yule, a reflective solstice, and the warmth of friends and family. Frohe Weihnachten!

A Visit from Princess Peepee

toilet

Hello Blog, long time no see – well, write. November has been a very busy month, and I’ve neglected my writing here. On the other hand, I completed NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) by writing 50,000 words of a novel in November. Woo-hoo! The novel is not complete, but the first draft will be finished by the time I ring in the new year. Since one of my goals for retirement was to devote more time to writing, I’m thrilled with my progress. I’ve also joined two writing groups, and have made the acquaintance of many other scribblers in our area.

The month of November ended with a week-long visit from my mother and daughter. This was their first trip to Tacoma, and we trekked all over town, visiting museums, Pike’s Place market in Seattle, the waterfront area of Tacoma, and many interesting shops. My mother and daughter are tea-drinkers, and where there is tea, there is pee. We were a three-generation tag-team of restroom-goers, helping each other hold bags, coats, and cups – a pretty comical sight.  Today Mom sent me a funny email rant about how difficult and nasty it is to stay clean while using a public women’s restroom – which reminded me of a piece I wrote a while ago about an encounter with the very pinnacle of incivility, is Princess Peepee.

If you’re female, you’ve met Princess Peepee, or have at least seen the evidence of her – er – passing. Her mommy taught her that public toilet seats harbor germs that will poison her, shriveling her precious lady parts and giving her a permanent case of cooties. (Think about it, Chica. Unless you’re very clumsy or practicing some exotic sitting position, your precious lady parts don’t even touch the toilet seat.) But never mind – Mommy taught Princess Peepee to squat, to hover, to release her bodily fluids from on high. OK, fine – I’m all for personal freedoms, as long as they have no negative effect on others. But germaphobic Mommy’s instruction was incomplete – or, perhaps Mommy and Princess Peepee believe that they are the only human beings who count in the whole, wide world.

You see, Mommy forgot to remind Princess to clean up after herself. It’s really quite simple, your highness: just ball up some toilet paper and wipe off the seat until it’s dry. If you have also blessed the floor with your leavings, wipe that up too. Because you see, Princess Peepee, when you leave the seat wet, even a paper toilet seat cover won’t save me from getting wet. And in what universe, oh precious and special one, is it fair that I should have to clean up your mess, you disgusting, thoughtless, conceited slob?

I once had the great pleasure of confronting Princess Peepee in the flesh. This particular princess was young, attractive, expensively dressed and groomed, and deeply engrossed in popping her gum. She emerged from a stall and I entered, then saw the piss-soaked seat she’d left behind. Though my bladder was calling loudly, the call for justice was louder still. I approached the mirror where she was touching up her lipstick and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hey Princess,” I said, loudly enough for all to hear, “you must have some real entitlement issues.” She gaped at me, perplexed and a bit alarmed.

“What?” She wrinkled her nose at me.

“You peed all over the seat and just left it for the rest of us to clean up.”

Princess made that dismissive, tongue-sucking sound that teens make and said,  “That wasn’t me.”

“Yes it was.” I stared at her. So did everyone else waiting in that restroom, but not to admire her flowing locks or expensive platform shoes. From the long line behind me I heard giggles, and someone muttered, “That’s right.”

Her majesty rolled her eyes and attempted to sashay out of there, but her gait was unsteady. Princess Peepee had toppled from her throne.

May your holiday shopping be blessedly free from sprinkles – unless they are found on sweet treats.